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The Unengaged Mind: Defining Boredom in Terms of Attention

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Abstract

Our central goal is to provide a definition of boredom in terms of the underlying mental processes that occur during an instance of boredom. Through the synthesis of psychodynamic, existential, arousal, and cognitive theories of boredom, we argue that boredom is universally conceptualized as "the aversive experience of wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity." We propose to map this conceptualization onto underlying mental processes. Specifically, we propose that boredom be defined in terms of attention. That is, boredom is the aversive state that occurs when we (a) are not able to successfully engage attention with internal (e.g., thoughts or feelings) or external (e.g., environmental stimuli) information required for participating in satisfying activity, (b) are focused on the fact that we are not able to engage attention and participate in satisfying activity, and (c) attribute the cause of our aversive state to the environment. We believe that our definition of boredom fully accounts for the phenomenal experience of boredom, brings existing theories of boredom into dialogue with one another, and suggests specific directions for future research on boredom and attention. © The Author(s) 2012.
Perspectives on Psychological Science
7(5) 482 –495
© The Author(s) 2012
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DOI: 10.1177/1745691612456044
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Boredom is Not Trivial
You are sitting in the reception area of your doctor’s office
awaiting your appointment. You’ve been waiting a long time.
The magazines are uninteresting. The pictures on the wall are
dull. You find yourself repeatedly looking at the clock on the
wall, watching the second hand move so excruciatingly slowly
that you are sure it must be broken. It’s not. You feel depleted
and irritated about being stuck in this seemingly endless
moment. You want to be engaged by something—anything—
when the thought, so familiar from childhood, comes to mind:
“I’m bored!”
Boredom is a common problem. In a survey of North
American youth, 91% of respondents reported that they expe-
rience boredom (The National Center on Addiction and Sub-
stance Abuse, 2003). It is often perceived as a fairly trivial and
temporary discomfort that can be alleviated by a simple change
in circumstances, such as finally being called into the doctor’s
examining room. However, boredom can also be a chronic
and pervasive stressor with significant psychosocial conse-
quences. Indeed, boredom is even associated with mortality,
lending grim weight to the popular phrase “bored to death”
(Bloomfield & Kennedy, 2006; Britton & Shipley, 2010;
Maltsberger, 2000).
Research has shown that boredom and the propensity to
experience boredom are associated with a range of psychologi-
cal, social, and physical health difficulties. For example, bore-
dom is correlated with mental health symptoms, such as
depression and anxiety (Goldberg, Eastwood, LaGuardia, &
Danckert, 2011; LePera, 2011; Sommers & Vodanovich, 2000),
alexithymia (Eastwood, Cavaliere, Fahlman, & Eastwood,
2007), and somatization complaints (Sommers & Vodanovich,
2000). Furthermore, boredom has been identified as a compli-
cating factor in the psychiatric rehabilitation of mental disor-
ders, such as schizophrenia (Newell, Harries, & Ayers, 2011;
Todman, 2003), and in recovery from traumatic brain injury
(Kreutzer, Seel, & Gourley, 2001; Oddy, Humphrey,
& Uttley, 1978; Seel & Kreutzer, 2003). Boredom is also nega-
tively correlated with a sense of purpose in life (Fahlman,
Mercer, Gaskovski, Eastwood, & Eastwood, 2009; Melton &
Schulenberg, 2007; van Tilburg & Igou, 2011). On a behavioral
Corresponding Author:
John D. Eastwood, Department of Psychology, York University, 118
Behavioural Science Building, 4700 Keele St. Toronto, Ontario MJ3 1P3,
Canada
E-mail: johneast@yorku.ca
The Unengaged Mind: Defining Boredom
in Terms of Attention
John D. Eastwood1, Alexandra Frischen1,2,3, Mark J. Fenske2,
and Daniel Smilek3
1Department of Psychology, York University; 2Department of Psychology,
University of Guelph; and 3Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo
Abstract
Our central goal is to provide a definition of boredom in terms of the underlying mental processes that occur during an
instance of boredom. Through the synthesis of psychodynamic, existential, arousal, and cognitive theories of boredom, we
argue that boredom is universally conceptualized as “the aversive experience of wanting, but being unable, to engage in
satisfying activity.” We propose to map this conceptualization onto underlying mental processes. Specifically, we propose
that boredom be defined in terms of attention. That is, boredom is the aversive state that occurs when we (a) are not able
to successfully engage attention with internal (e.g., thoughts or feelings) or external (e.g., environmental stimuli) information
required for participating in satisfying activity, (b) are focused on the fact that we are not able to engage attention and
participate in satisfying activity, and (c) attribute the cause of our aversive state to the environment. We believe that our
definition of boredom fully accounts for the phenomenal experience of boredom, brings existing theories of boredom into
dialogue with one another, and suggests specific directions for future research on boredom and attention.
Keywords
boredom, attention, emotion
by Mark Fenske on September 6, 2012pps.sagepub.comDownloaded from
Boredom and Attention 483
level, boredom is linked with impulse control deficits such as
overeating and binge eating (Stickney & Miltenberger, 1999),
drug and alcohol abuse (Lee, Neighbors, & Woods, 2007;
LePera, 2011; Wiesbeck et al., 1996), and problem gambling
(Mercer & Eastwood, 2010). Boredom at work (Fisher, in
press) can cause serious accidents if safety depends on continu-
ous vigilance, as in medical monitoring or long-haul truck driv-
ing (Kass, Beede, & Vodanovich, 2010; O’Hanlon, 1981;
Weinger, 1999). It is clear, therefore, that far from being trivial,
boredom can be a serious problem. Unfortunately, the scientific
study of boredom remains a relatively obscure niche and bore-
dom itself is still poorly understood.
The central purpose of this article is to provide a definition
of boredom in terms of the underlying mental processes that
occur during an instance of boredom. Currently, boredom is
typically defined somewhat imprecisely in terms of what it
feels like to be bored—that is, the experiential components of
boredom. In this article, we seek to map these experiential
components onto their underlying mental processes. We
believe that our definition of boredom will be satisfying to the
full spectrum of boredom researchers and, given its precision,
will support empirical research that would otherwise not be
possible. We view the task of offering a definition of boredom
to be an important but distinct task from the goal of explaining
the cause of boredom. In this article, we first establish a com-
mon definition of boredom, and then explore the attention-
boredom link in detail and synthesize research findings. We
also argue that defining boredom with attention at the core can
account for the diverse experiential aspects of boredom. We
briefly embed our definition of boredom into a broader frame-
work that includes the possible causes of boredom. Finally,
we conclude with recommendations for future research. See
Figure 1 for a schematic summary.
Existing Theories and a Common
Definition of Boredom
Lipps (1903) proposed one of the earliest psychodynamic defi-
nitions of boredom: “Boredom is a feeling of unpleasure arising
out of a conflict between a need for intense mental activity and
BOREDOM
The Aversive State of Wanting, but Being Unable, to Engage in
Satisfying Activity
Mental Processes
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!!!
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  
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!!% !
Experiential Components
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
Psychological Causes of Boredom
-hronic Weakness of Attention Systems
e.g., ADHD, Diffuse Brain Injury, Severe Psychopathology
-hronic Inability to Articulate a Satisfying Target for Engagement
e.g., Alexithymia, Impoverished Life Meaning
-hronic Hyposensitivity or Hypersensitivity to Stimulation
e.g., Behavioral Activation (BAS) / Behavioral Inhibition (BIS)
Fig. 1. A schematic representation of the central aspects of the article. The top panel
summarizes the proposed definition of boredom and the relation between the mental processes
and the experiential components that define the state of boredom. The bottom panel summarizes
potential psychological causes of boredom entailed by existing boredom theories (related
individual difference traits are italicized). Note that environmental factors such as the level and
type of stimulation that is available are likely important external variables that influence whether
or not an individual experiences boredom in a given situation, but these are not the focus of the
present model.
by Mark Fenske on September 6, 2012pps.sagepub.comDownloaded from
484 Eastwood et al.
lack of incitement to it, or inability to be incited” (cited in
Fenichel, 1953, p. 292). Subsequent psychoanalytic writers
(e.g., Fenichel, 1953; Greenson, 1953; Lewinsky, 1943) also
argued that boredom involves the desire for mental engagement
and the simultaneous inhibition of such engagement; however,
they further emphasized that the bored individual is unable to
articulate what it is that he or she desires or wants to do. In sum,
to be bored, according to the psychodynamic theory, is to be in
a state of longing for activity but unaware of what it is that one
desires and to look to the world to solve the impasse.
Most existential definitions of boredom include a sense of
emptiness, meaninglessness and a paralysis of agency—the
bored individual is unable to find impetus for action, is with-
drawn from the world, and experiences life as meaningless
(e.g., Frankl, 1984; Maddi, 1970). For example, Maddi (1970)
proposed a malady called “existential sickness or neurosis,”
which he described as “a settled, continuous state of meaning-
less, apathy, and aimlessness” that involves a “general absence
of emotions, pleasant or unpleasant, with the exception of bore-
dom” (p. 140). Thus, the definition of boredom from the exis-
tential tradition emphasizes the aversive experience of inaction,
emptiness, paralysis of will, and meaning not realized.
Arousal theories define boredom as the state of nonoptimal
arousal that ensues when there is a mismatch between an
individual’s needed arousal and the availability of environmen-
tal stimulation. More specifically, the environment may present
too much or too little challenge and thus does not afford
satisfying activity (e.g., Berlyne, 1960; Csikszentmihalyi,
1975, 1990; De Chenne, 1988; Hebb, 1966; O’Hanlon, 1981;
Zuckerman, 1979). Thus, according to arousal theories, bore-
dom is the aversive state that occurs when it is not possible to
achieve an optimal level of arousal through engagement with
the environment.
Whereas arousal theories focus on the stimulating qualities
of the environment itself, cognitive theories focus on the indi-
viduals’ perception of their environment as monotonous (e.g.,
Hamilton, Haier, & Buchsbaum, 1984; Hill & Perkins, 1985)
or uninteresting (Fisher, 1993; Sundberg, Latkin, Farmer, &
Saoud, 1991). In addition, cognitive theories of boredom
emphasize that bored individuals suffer from poor concentra-
tion and are forced to control their attention with effort (Fisher,
1993; Hamilton, 1981; Harris, 2000; Todman, 2003). Thus,
the definition of boredom from the cognitive perspective
emphasizes both attributions about the environment lacking
opportunities for satisfying activity, as well as the impaired
ability to concentrate.
Although the psychodynamic, existential, arousal, and cog-
nitive theories differ in important ways, they agree that, by
definition, the bored person wishes to, but is unable to, become
engrossed in satisfying activity. Boredom is the experience of
being disengaged and stuck in an endless dissatisfying present.
Although the bored person typically laments an impoverished
environment, the reality is that “‘boringness’ isn’t out there; it
is between there and us” (Conrad, 1997; p. 474). In the next
section, we characterize the disengagement that is a central
component of boredom in terms of attention.
Attention Failure as the Defining
Underlying Mental Process in Boredom
We propose to define boredom as the aversive state that occurs
when we (a) are not able to successfully engage attention with
internal (e.g., thoughts or feelings) or external (e.g., environ-
mental stimuli) information required for participating in satis-
fying activity; (b) are aware of the fact that we are not able to
engage attention and participate in satisfying activity, which
can take the form of either awareness of a high degree of men-
tal effort expended in an attempt to engage with the task at
hand or awareness of engagement with task-unrelated con-
cerns (e.g., mind wandering); and (c) attribute the cause of our
aversive state to the environment (e.g., “this task is boring”,
“there is nothing to do”). We will now organize our review of
existing research on attention and boredom according to the
three broad networks of attention that have been identified
(M. I. Posner & Petersen, 1990; see M. I. Posner & Rothbart,
2007, for a review); namely, the orienting, executive, and
alerting attention networks.
Inadequate orienting of attention and
attribution of attention difficulties to the
environment
The orienting network selectively allocates attention to task-
relevant or otherwise salient information. We argue that misal-
location of attention that disrupts adequate engagement with
information pertaining to the current activity can lead to bore-
dom. Two studies that experimentally manipulated the level of
distraction that occurred while participants performed a task
(Damrad-Frye & Laird, 1989; Fisher, 1998) provide tentative
evidence in favor of this view.
In Damrad-Frye and Laird’s (1989) study, participants were
asked to listen to the reading of a moderately interesting article
with the aim of remembering its content. During this task, a
TV in the adjacent room played an unrelated program at a loud
and clearly noticeable volume level, a moderate and barely
noticeable level, or while muted. Participants were then asked
to rate their current levels of interest and boredom, as well as
their enjoyment of the primary task. Those who had been
exposed to barely noticeable noise levels were unaware of the
source of distraction but reported greater levels of boredom
and found the task less interesting than did participants in the
loud and muted conditions. This shows that subtle distraction
can be associated with higher levels of boredom.
Fisher (1998) also examined the impact of distraction on
boredom, additionally manipulating the level of attentional
demands of the primary task and the emotional salience of the
distraction. Participants performed either a repetitive assem-
bly task that required little attention, a proofreading task that
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Boredom and Attention 485
was uninteresting and required sustained monitoring, or a
complex management task that demanded attention but was
designed to be diverse and interesting. Interruptions occurred
in the form of conversations among other people in the same
room; these were of a personal nature, prompting participants
to reflect on their own feelings (i.e., affectively salient), or of
a technical nature (i.e., not salient). Participants were then
asked about their perception of the task, including level of
interest, feelings of enjoyment or frustration, and amount of
mind wandering. Whereas levels of boredom in the Damrad-
Frye and Laird (1989) study depended on the salience of the
interruptions, boredom levels in Fisher’s (1998) study were
influenced by the degree of the attentional demand of the pri-
mary task. Participants who were disrupted while performing
the task requiring low levels of attention reported lower bore-
dom ratings than did participants in a control condition with-
out distraction. Distraction had no effect on boredom ratings
during the tasks that required more substantial engagement of
attention. This finding suggests that boredom during a task
that can be completed without focused attention may be
reduced by distraction because the individual can let their
mind focus on more rewarding mental activity.
At first glance, the results of these two studies appear con-
tradictory in terms of the nature of the effect of distraction on
boredom: Damrad-Frye and Laird (1989) reported elevated
levels of boredom in the presence of distraction, whereas
Fisher (1998) observed reduced boredom. Although actual
task performance was not measured in either study, a reason-
able interpretation is that boredom may be elevated when dis-
tracting attention is detrimental to the task at hand but may be
mitigated by distraction when the task does not require focused
attention in the first place. Both sets of authors explain their
findings in terms of the participants’ attribution of their atten-
tional failure. In Damrad-Frye and Laird’s study, participants
who were exposed to barely noticeable noise attributed their
distractibility to the “boring” task material, whereas those in
the loud condition who experienced less boredom accurately
blamed the television. In Fisher’s study, the source of distrac-
tion was always blatant and unambiguous, akin to Damrad-
Frye and Laird’s loud condition. Indeed, Fisher suggested that
this factor was the likely reason for the lack of elevated bore-
dom levels during the attentionally demanding tasks. In sup-
port of this notion, a recent study that manipulated mind
wandering during a task found that boredom did not occur
when participants were aware of the true locus of their distrac-
tion (Critcher & Gilovich, 2010).
In sum, the evidence regarding the role of the orienting net-
work supports the view that distracting attention can lead to
boredom. However, merely distracting attention appears to be
an insufficient condition for experiencing boredom; boredom
also seems to depend on performance failures and the attribu-
tion of difficulties to the current activity. This may be an erro-
neous attribution, such as when an unrelated external source
covertly diverts attention (Damrad-Frye & Laird, 1989), or it
may be an appropriate attribution, such as when sustained
attention is required for a task that offers few incentives for
continued engagement.
Failure of executive control processes and
awareness of difficulty concentrating: Mental
effort and mind wandering
Tasks that involve monitoring for rare and randomly occurring
events rely greatly on the executive network of attention
because they require controlled deployment of attention over
extended intervals and are associated with mental effort (Deaton
& Parasuraman, 1993). A typical vigilance task is long (e.g.,
90 min; Pattyn, Neyt, Henderickx, & Soetens, 2008) and
monotonous, requiring participants to continuously monitor a
display for detection signals that are rare and difficult to spot.
Due to the rare occurrence and the low signal-to-noise ratio of
critical events, sustained attention (vigilance) tasks are largely
devoid of exogenous support for keeping attention focused.
Thus, they provide a measure of the ability to self-sustain
attention over time by assessing the quality of performance as
a function of task duration; a decline in performance (called
vigilance decrement; Davies & Parasuraman, 1982) reflects a
failure to sustain attention. The vigilance task is the epitome of
a boring task, and thus has been employed to examine the rela-
tionship between boredom and sustained attention.
Most research findings indicate a clear association between
boredom and vigilance decrement. For example, Thackray,
Bailey, and Touchstone (1977) showed that participants who
reported high levels of boredom performed worse on a vigi-
lance task than those who were not bored. Scerbo (1998) con-
ducted a series of studies likewise demonstrating a close
correlation between boredom and vigilance decrement. As
participants monitored a display for occasional stimulus
changes, levels of boredom consistently increased in tandem
with a decline in overt performance (see also Pattyn et al.,
2008). When participants monitored a display for stimulus
changes that were either easily noticeable or inconspicuous,
boredom ratings were similar for both versions of the task,
even though overall performance was better in the easy task.
However, as task performance declined over time, levels of
boredom increased in both tasks (Scerbo, 1998). This finding
implies that boredom may be more strongly linked to a
dynamic change in the ability to sustain attention over time
rather than the absolute demand for sustained attention at any
given moment.
There is one study, however, that questions the extent to
which boredom is related to attentional vigilance. Hitchcock,
Dember, Warm, Moroney, and See (1999) used a vigilance task
that included “difficult” and “easy” conditions. Both conditions
involved tedious tasks, but a cue signaled the imminent arrival
of the target in one condition, whereas the target was uncued
in the other condition. Vigilance decrements were obtained in
the uncued condition but not in the cued condition. Despite
these performance differences, boredom scores, assessed by
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486 Eastwood et al.
Scerbo’s (1998) task-related boredom scale, were similar in
each condition.
In Hitchcock et al.’s (1999) experiment, the cue was 100%
valid, thereby completely eliminating the need to monitor dis-
plays throughout the experiment. In other words, participants
could do the task successfully and yet disengage attention
from the task in the cued condition. Furthermore, participants
were asked to report the boringness of the task itself. Thus,
although participants may well have entertained themselves
with daydreaming because there was no need to continuously
attend to the task, the task itself would have been perceived as
boring. These two aspects of the task—100% cue validity and
the task appraisal measure—could explain the elevated bore-
dom ratings despite an apparent lack of sustained attentional
failure in the cued condition.
An unresolved issue is whether it is the ability to sustain
attention per se or the concomitant perceived effort that drives
the relationship between boredom and vigilance tasks. All
vigilance tasks require effort, and perceived effort will typi-
cally increase as performance decreases. In Thackray et al.’s
(1977) study, participants who were bored also found perform-
ing the task more effortful, indicating an increased demand on
executive attention processes when bored. However, research
has not yet attempted to disentangle effort and performance.
The relationship between sustained attention failure and
boredom may depend to some degree on ongoing performance
monitoring. This notion is consistent with the evidence that
the relationship between failures of the orienting system and
boredom may be moderated by task appraisal as described
above. It is possible that awareness of increased effort and/or
task-unrelated mind wandering signals a failure of sustained
attention and contributes to the experience of boredom rather
than the attentional failure itself. Indeed, recent neuroimaging
results indicate that activity within a ventral region of the pos-
terior cingulate cortex (vPCC) may reflect the extent to which
attention is diverted to off-task internally generated thought
(Leech, Kamourieh, Beckmann, & Sharp, 2011). Fluctuations
of activity within such a neural circuit may reflect failures to
prevent mind wandering. This may explain why individuals
with high sustained-attention skills show a relatively lower
incidence of such vPCC activity fluctuations than do their
poorer performing counterparts and why they show relatively
greater functional connectivity between the vPCC and the
temporal-parietal junction component of the attention orient-
ing system (Pagnoni, 2012).
It is important to make a distinction between task-unrelated
mind wandering and task-related imagination. For example,
although daydreaming can be experienced as pleasant,
instances of task-unrelated mind wandering that are associated
with failures to engage attention with the ongoing task have in
fact been linked with negative mood (e.g., Carriere, Cheyne,
& Smilek, 2008; Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010; Smallwood,
O’Connor, Sudbery, & Obonsawin, 2007). It is also worth not-
ing that task-unrelated mind wandering (Smallwood &
Schooler, 2006) can project the individual to more pleasant
scenarios than the one to which they are currently confined.
With the exception of situations in which the individual is
fully immersed in his or her fantasy world and thus unable to
reflect on the fact that their mind wandering is “off-topic”,
mind wandering would emphasize the discrepancy between
the dullness of the current condition and an unfulfilled yearn-
ing for more desirable activity. This discrepancy would exac-
erbate the sense of constraint or being trapped in an unwanted
situation that is one of the hallmarks of boredom (cf. Todman,
2003). Indeed, Critcher and Gilovich (2010) found that letting
the mind wander to enjoyable scenarios—rather than scenar-
ios with negative connotations—reduces satisfaction with the
current activity and leads to perceptions of task boredom.
In contrast, task-related imagination, such as turning the
task at hand into a game or mental cinema, may serve to
increase the degree of intrinsic interest in the task. Indeed,
when the content of imagination is related to the task at hand,
then less negative mood is experienced (Csikszentmihalyi,
1978). Furthermore, imagination that is related to the task may
improve task performance by promoting successful engage-
ment with the current task. Task-relevant imagination could
thus facilitate absorption and thereby attenuate the experience
of attentional failure and effort, as well as, by extension, levels
of boredom.
In sum, boredom is particularly likely to occur when a task
provides little external support for keeping attention engaged,
such that performance relies instead on self-sustained atten-
tion. Whether or not boredom is experienced in such situations
is likely influenced by meta-awareness of the inadequacy of
attentional engagement, which may be signaled by the
increased effort involved in pursuing the current activity or by
task-unrelated mind wandering. When fully absorbed in task-
unrelated mind wandering, an individual may not feel bored at
the time, but he or she will still report that the task itself was
boring after the fact. Further, task-related imagination might
serve to bolster absorption in the task at hand and thus decrease
boredom.
Failed attempts to engage attention through
regulation of the alerting system
Arousal is a state of physiological reactivity, ranging from low
(calm) to high (excitement) and is a crucial component of
attention as it fuels higher-level attentional operations. The
diffuse brain regions thought to be central for regulating levels
of arousal are referred to as the alerting network. Organisms
generally strive to achieve an optimal level of arousal that is
relative to the demands of the current situation, whereby both
underarousal and overarousal are detrimental to attention, task
performance, and well-being (e.g., Freeman, Mikulka, Scerbo,
& Scott, 2004). Accordingly, we propose that low or high lev-
els of arousal render efforts to engage attention ineffective and
thus result in boredom.
Boredom is often defined as a negative mood state charac-
terized by low arousal due to inadequate external stimulation
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Boredom and Attention 487
(e.g., Hebb, 1966; Mikulas & Vodanovich, 1993; J. Posner,
Russell, & Peterson, 2005). However, evidence and theory
suggests that boredom comprises states of high arousal as
well. On the one hand, participants report lethargy and a
“dispiriting lack of energy” (e.g., Martin, Sadlo, & Stew, 2006,
p. 206) during boredom, which is consistent with low arousal;
on the other hand, it is reported that boredom involves feelings
of restlessness and irritability, which is consistent with ele-
vated arousal (e.g., Harris, 2000; Martin et al., 2006). Indeed,
consistent with theory and qualitative findings, boredom has
been linked to both decreasing and increasing levels of arousal
during tasks that require continuous monitoring for rare target
events (London, Schubert, & Washburn, 1972; Pattyn et al.,
2008). Pattyn et al.’s (2008) participants performed a pro-
longed target detection task with low target probability, during
which heart rate and respiration were measured. Participants
reported being bothered by the long duration of the experiment
and increasingly engaging in mind wandering, suggesting that
they grew bored as the task dragged on. Heart rate decreased
over time, indicating diminishing arousal as boredom
increased. However, increased arousal has also been observed
in conjunction with boring tasks (Lundberg, Melin, Evans, &
Holmberg, 1993; Ohsuga, Shimono, & Genno, 2001). For
example, London et al. (1972) reported elevated galvanic skin
responses and heart rate during monotonous tasks that were
perceived as boring.
We suspect that that low and high arousal may occur during
different stages of a given episode of boredom and depend on
the nature of the situation that gives rise to boredom. When an
individual is aware that they are failing to effectively engage
attention, they may attempt to bolster attentional processes by
increasing arousal. Inadequate external stimulation may
require that the individual exert effortful control over their
focus of attention to compensate for the lack of exogenous
engagement of attention (see Fisher (in press) for a broader
discussion of regulating boredom). In this regard, boredom
can be characterized by low arousal associated with inade-
quate external stimulation, as well as high internal arousal and
frustration associated with the struggle to keep attention
focused (see Berlyne, 1960; Hamilton, 1981; O’Hanlon, 1981;
Smith, 1981; and Thackray, 1981, for similar arguments).
Attention and the Defining Experiential
Components of Boredom
The diverse range of experiences that boredom encompasses
can be grouped into the following broad categories: awareness
of difficulty concentrating; nonoptimal arousal; a negative,
aversive emotional state; constraint and disrupted agency; and
a perceived slow passage of time (see also Fahlman, Mercer-
Lynn, Flora, & Eastwood, 2011). The first two experiential
components of boredom—difficulty concentrating and nonop-
timal arousal—have already been examined in detail above
and are explained by our conceptualization of attentional
problems as the final mediating mechanism of boredom; thus,
these components will not be addressed further. We will now
explore how attention can account for the remaining defining
experiential components of boredom: negative affect, disrup-
tion of agency, and the perception that time is passing slowly.
Negative affect
Boredom is an aversive state that is characterized by feelings
of displeasure, sadness, emptiness, anxiety, and even anger
(Bailey, Thackray, Pearl, & Parish, 1976; Csikszentmihalyi,
1975; Fahlman et al., 2011; Greenson, 1953; Hartocollis,
1972; Hill & Perkins, 1985; Vodanovich, Verner, & Gilbride,
1991). At first glance, it may be difficult to see how attention
factors into these affective experiences. In fact, attention is
closely linked to emotion (Ribot, 1890; Vuilleumier & Driver,
2007; Yiend, 2010). For example, growing evidence suggests
that selective attention has affective consequences. In particu-
lar, stimuli from which attention is withdrawn are subse-
quently evaluated more negatively than novel items or stimuli
that have previously been the focus of attention (for reviews,
see Fenske & Raymond, 2006; Raymond, 2009).
With regard to boredom, the finding that unattended stimuli
are disliked (Raymond, Fenske, & Tavassoli, 2003) mirrors
Damrad-Frye and Laird’s (1989) observation that diverting
attention away from the task at hand leads to its negative
appraisal as boring. More fundamentally, we propose that mis-
allocation or inadequate focus of attention can also account for
the negative emotional states within the individual.
Successful allocation of attention yields fluent information
processing by reducing interference and facilitating goal-
related cognitive processes as information flows from sensory
encoding to response selection and execution stages. Smooth
processing is akin to the sense of “flow,” in which an individ-
ual is fully absorbed in the current activity and experiences
positive affect and a rewarding sense of intrinsic enjoyment
(e.g., Nakamura & Csikszentmihalyi, 2002; Rogatko, 2009;
and Winkielman, Schwartz, & Nowak, 2002). Winkielman
et al. (2002) argued that metacognitive reward mechanisms
provide cognitive and affective feedback about the efficiency
and effectiveness of ongoing processing operations. They sug-
gested that fluency is associated with positive affect because it
is intrinsically rewarding and indicates consistency between
processing operations on the one hand and current goals and
expectations on the other (see also Weber, Tamborini, West-
cott-Baker, & Kantor, 2009). This fluency generates positive
feelings of competence and a sense of connectedness and
engagement. Indeed, it has even been proposed that there is
a basic human motivation to experience such “effectance”
(R. W. White, 1959).
In contrast, maladaptive allocation of attention disrupts the
smooth flow of information processing and results in cogni-
tive errors, effort, and negative affect. Csikszentmihalyi
(1978) conducted studies on flow deprivation that demon-
strated that the inability to focus attention results in negative
affect. Participants who were prevented from engaging in
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488 Eastwood et al.
absorbing activities became irritated, depressed, and experi-
enced a drop in creativity. He notes that these forms of dis-
rupted cognition and negative affect, if left unchecked, can
eventually result in psychopathology. Thus, we propose that
inadequate attention functioning per se generates negative
affect that is opposite to the positive affect associated with per-
ceptual fluency and flow (see Hamilton, 1981).
Finally, it should be noted that the negative affect experi-
enced during an episode of boredom might cause further
impairment in cognitive functioning, thus intensifying the
problem. For example, a study by Smallwood, Fitzgerald,
Miles, and Phillips (2009) demonstrated that negative mood
induction led to a greater frequency of errors on a sustained
attention task and less inclination to slow down responses fol-
lowing an error, suggesting that negative mood reduces the
ability to sustain and reengage attention following a lapse (see
also Smallwood & O’Connor, 2011).
Kuhl’s (1987) action control theory provides further sup-
port for the notion that negative affect may impair attentional
engagement. Specifically, Kuhl (1981) found that a disruption
of active engagement occurred after experiences of failure in
individuals with a propensity towards rumination. Based on
these findings, Kuhl has developed a theory of action control
in which negative affect may prevent individuals from engag-
ing in adaptive, goal-oriented activity. Such individuals are
referred to within this framework as “state-oriented” because
of their failure to act due to a maladaptive attentional focus on
affective states. State orientation has been shown to correlate
with a propensity to experience boredom in male undergradu-
ate students (Blunt & Pychyl, 1998). Thus, it would appear
that the negative affect associated with boredom could hamper
continued or renewed engagement of attention with the cur-
rent activity, resulting in a sustained episode of boredom.
In summary, our definition of boredom in terms of attention
can account for the fact that boredom is a negative emotional
experience. Things that are not within the focus of attention
are disliked, and thus unattended activity is subject to negative
attributions (“this task is horrible and boring”). Inadequate
attentional engagement also disrupts the sense of flow that
would accompany fluent information processing, resulting in
negative internal mood states (“I am irritated, dissatisfied,
etc.”).
Constraint and disordered agency
Feelings of constraint and disordered agency are central to the
experience of boredom. The bored individual feels con-
strained: They must do what they do not want to do or cannot
do what they want to do (e.g., Fahlman et al., 2011; Fenichel,
1951; Todman, 2003). That is, they are stuck or constrained so
that their will cannot be executed. Moreover, the chronically
bored individual often cannot articulate what it is that they
want to do. We argue that the feelings of constraint and disor-
dered agency in boredom can be accounted for within our
attention-based definition.
In the first case—not being able to do what one wants or
being forced to do what one does not want—the individual is
unable to freely choose how they will deploy attention. Instead,
the experience is that some outside force has determined what
will be the focus of attention. Fisher (1993) argued that the
mere presence of salient external constraints can cause a loss
of interest in a task, thereby perpetuating difficulties to prop-
erly engage with the task. Csikszentmihalyi (1978), in his
empirical studies of flow deprivation mentioned earlier,
emphasized that it is the inability to focus attention voluntarily
that is detrimental to psychological well-being. Although we
are in full agreement with this view, we suggest that, in the
case of boredom, the concept of voluntary requires further
specification.
We argue that the term voluntary should not be simply
equated with intentional or desired—it should also encompass
the notion “without subjective effort.” Consider the following
two situations. First, imagine a philosophy student who wants
to read Kant’s (1785) Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Mor-
als. When seeking out the original text, she will find herself
confronted with page-long nested sentences that are very dif-
ficult to comprehend. Thus, even though she has every inten-
tion of focusing on the text, the student will have to exert effort
and force herself to concentrate. She will become aware that
she is struggling to stay engaged and that she is exerting a high
degree of mental effort. If she attributes her difficulty to the
external world (i.e., “this book is poorly written”), she would
likely deem the book boring and declare herself to be bored
even if she wanted to read the book.
Now imagine a second scenario. The philosophy student is
invited to watch a movie with her friend. Unfortunately, the
movie is not at all interesting to her. Her friend has to cajole
her into coming along because she does not want to attend the
movie. As the movie begins, she may even resist paying atten-
tion. However, by the time the movie has ended 2 hours later,
she may be surprised to find herself effortlessly absorbed in
the plot and characters without intending to do so. In this situ-
ation, she would likely not report experiencing boredom, even
though initially she did not want to watch the movie.
In addition to the issue of constraint, theorists have pointed
out that chronic boredom is also related to a disruption in agency
(e.g., Bernstein, 1975; Greenson, 1953). Bernstein (1975), for
example, noted that individuals who often feel bored describe
themselves as “phonies” because they are “always observers of
the passing scene, watching it all happen as though from some
distant vantage point” (p. 517) rather than engaging in life.
Greenson (1953) similarly described the bored individuals’
“passive, expectant attitude with the hope that the external
world will supply the satisfaction” (p. 7). Bored individuals in
qualitative studies also report disordered agency and diminished
self-determination (e.g., Bargdill, 2000; Kanevsky & Keighley,
2003; Martin et al., 2006). In addition, research findings have
demonstrated a correlation between the trait of boredom prone-
ness and constructs related to agency such as locus of control
(e.g., Hunter & Csikszentmihalyi, 2003), assertiveness (e.g.,
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Boredom and Attention 489
Tol or, 1989), psychosocial development (Watt & Vodanovich,
1999), self-actualization (e.g., McLeod & Vodanovich, 1991),
and procrastination (e.g., Blunt & Pychyl, 1998).
We argue that disordered agency (e.g., not knowing what it
is that one wants to do) occurs because of repeated failures of
effortful deployment of attention. Here, we draw on the classic
work of James (1890/1913) on attention, effort, and will. James
argued that “[t]he essential achievement of the will, in short,
when it is most ‘voluntary,’ is to ATTEND to a difficult object
and hold it fast before the mind” (p. 561). Thus, in keeping with
James’ notion that “effort of attention is. . . the essential phe-
nomenon of will” (p. 562), we propose that our sense of will or
agency arises from multiple experiences of being able to
engage attention. That is, the ability to successfully exert con-
trol to utilize attention provides the foundation for our elabo-
rated sense of agency and, conversely, the inability to engage
attention results in a self that is blocked or inarticulate.
In summary, boredom often involves the feeling of con-
straint, and chronic boredom often involves the feeling of dis-
ordered agency. We argue that it is both a failure in the
deployment of attention and the subjective sense of effort that
is at the root of such feelings of constraint and disordered
agency. If attention is successfully engaged, then low effort
and low metacognitive awareness is associated with a sense of
flow, whereas high effort and high metacognitive awareness
is linked with an enhanced sense of agency. However, if
attention is not successfully engaged, then low effort and low
metacognitive awareness is associated with absorbed mind
wandering, whereas high mental effort and high metacognitive
awareness is associated with boredom.
Perception of a slow passage of time
A distorted sense of time, where time is perceived to pass slowly,
is a prominent feature of boredom. Indeed, the German term for
“boredom” is langeweile, which literally translates as “long
period of time.” Wangh (1975) stated that, in a state of boredom,
“time seems endless, there is no distinction between past, pres-
ent, and future. There seems to be only an endless present”
(p. 541). Greenson (1953) stated that boredom is associated
with “a distorted sense of time in which time seems to stand
still” (p. 7), and emphasized that boredom involves “torturous
waiting, and the painful slowness of the passage of time” (1951,
p. 346). Hartocollis (1972), a psychodynamic theorist who
focused a great deal on the perception of time, saw boredom as
an endless present. He argued that boredom is “experienced as a
disturbance in the sense of time” (p. 96) more so than other
affects. For example, he noted that whereas fear is oriented
toward the future and sadness is oriented toward the past, bore-
dom is specifically displeasure with the present.
Participants in qualitative studies similarly report a slow
passage of time when bored. This experience is sometimes
associated with feelings of guilt at “wasting time” rather than
pursuing productive activities (Martin et al., 2006; O’Connor,
1967). It therefore seems that when individuals are unable to
occupy themselves with meaningful activity, having endlessly
dragging time on their hands becomes the unsatisfying focus of
their awareness. Furthermore, people who have a high propen-
sity to become bored tend to make errors in judging the dura-
tion of perceptual events, suggesting that distortions in time
perception could contribute to the likelihood that boredom is
experienced (Danckert & Allman, 2005). Indeed, it has been
shown that the mere perception that time is moving slowly
can result in negative judgments of experiences in general
(Sackett, Meyvis, Nelson, Converse, & Sackett, 2010) and of
feelings of boredom in particular (London & Monello, 1974).
In a study by London and Monello (1974), participants carried
out a task in view of a clock that was running slower or faster
than objectively measured time. Participants reported more
boredom when the clock indicated that they had only been
working on the task for 10 minutes when in actuality they had
been working on it for 20 minutes than when the clock indi-
cated that they had been working on the task for 30 minutes
when in actually they had been working on it for 20 minutes.
Models of time perception (e.g., Treisman, 1963; Zakay,
1992) posit that attention is required to process cues regarding
the passage of time, such as changes in the position of the
hands of a clock or in ambient lighting. An internal counter
keeps track of such cues as “units” of time that have passed. If
attention is absorbed by the current activity instead of being
allocated to monitoring the passage of time, temporal cues
are likely to be missed and duration will be underestimated
(Grondin & Macar, 1992; Hicks & Brundige, 1974). This
explanation may account for why reading a book while travel-
ling on the train can make the journey seem relatively fast. In
contrast, the journey may seem longer when looking out the
window and keeping track of all the stations; that is, if atten-
tion is focused on temporal cues, time is perceived to move
slowly (Fraisse, 1963; Thomas & Brown, 1974).
Indeed, the more that attention is allocated to an ongoing
task—limiting the availability of attention to temporal cues—
the less time seems to drag (Brown & Boltz, 2002; Fraisse,
1984). For instance, Chaston and Kingstone (2004) manipu-
lated the degree of attentional engagement during a task. Par-
ticipants performed a visual search task for either salient
targets that “popped out” effortlessly or targets that were much
more difficult to find. Participants were then asked to estimate
the duration of the task. Results showed that as the demand for
attentional engagement increased, the duration of the task was
increasingly underestimated.
In summary, the perceived slow passage of time during epi-
sodes of boredom may arise from a failure to fully engage
attention with the current activity. Instead, attention is allo-
cated to temporal cues, leading to conscious perception of the
passage of time, which therefore appears to drag.
Causes of Boredom
We have reviewed existing boredom theories in order to
develop a common definition of boredom. In this section, we
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490 Eastwood et al.
attempt to summarize the distinct psychological causes of
boredom entailed by the various theories (i.e., we exclude
external or environmental causes); however, it should be noted
that existing theories sometimes do not draw a sharp and clear
distinction between the causal and definitional aspects of
boredom.
Psychodynamic theories argue that boredom is caused by an
inability to consciously determine what is desired because the
desire is threatening and therefore repressed. As a result, the
bored individual looks to the external world to find satisfac-
tion, but inevitably feels deprived and frustrated when the
external world does not resolve the problem (Fenichel, 1953;
Greenson, 1953; Wangh, 1975). Existential theories argue that
boredom is caused by a lack of life meaning or purpose; bore-
dom ensues when an individual gives up on or fails to articulate
and participate in activities that are consistent with his values
(Bargdill, 2000; Fahlman et al., 2009; Frankl, 1984; Maddi,
1967, 1970; A. White, 1998). Arousal theories propose that
boredom is caused by a mismatch between an individual’s need
for arousal and the availability of environmental stimulation
(Berlyne, 1960; Csikszentmihalyi, 1975, 1990; De Chenne,
1988; Hebb, 1966; Klapp, 1986; Zuckerman, 1979). The psy-
chological causal factors implied by the arousal theory are an
individual’s dispositional arousal “set point” and response to
stimulation. These factors can be partially captured by the sys-
tems that control appetitive and aversive motivation; namely,
the behavioral activation system that promotes approach
behavior toward rewarding stimuli, and the behavioral inhibi-
tion system that facilitates withdrawal in response to aversive
situations (Carver & White, 1994; Gray, 1972). Finally, cogni-
tive theories propose that boredom is caused by a failure of
attentional processes resulting in an inability to focus or engage
attention (Fisher, 1993; Hamilton, 1981).
Cognitive theories require further comment, especially
given that we have thus far defined boredom in terms of atten-
tion. At first glance, it may seem conceptually problematic to
consider attention to be both definitional of the boredom state
and also a possible cause of that state. We resolve this apparent
problem by distinguishing between momentary failures of
attention and more chronic (i.e., trait) deficiencies of attention.
We treat momentary failures of attention as being definitional
of boredom, and the more chronic deficiencies of attentional
mechanisms as a possible cause of these momentary failures
(and thus boredom). According to this distinction, it is possi-
ble to experience boredom, defined in part by a momentary
failure of attention, with or without having this momentary
state being caused by a chronically defective attention mecha-
nism. In this way, it is possible to reconcile attention as a
cause, as proposed by cognitive theories, with attention also as
part of the definition of boredom.
This summary of the causes of boredom should not be
considered a critical or exhaustive review of the literature.
Rather, we have only briefly summarized previously proposed
causes of boredom in order to situate our definition within a
larger framework and to alert readers to the distinct issue of
understanding what causes boredom. Indeed, in our view, a
thorough review of the causes of boredom is an important next
step in the study of boredom (see Fisher, in press, for a review
of causes of workplace boredom). Below we present other
directions for future research.
Directions for Future Research
Manipulating attention
Many studies exploring the relationship between boredom and
attention are correlational in nature. Although some attempts
have been made to manipulate attention and then measure
boredom (e.g., Damrad-Frye & Laird, 1989), these studies
lack validated measures of state boredom and are nonspecific
with regard to the component of attention that is manipulated.
We have identified attentional networks (alerting, orienting,
and executive attention) that should be specifically targeted.
As noted, although there is tentative evidence that these differ-
ent components of attention may underlie boredom, it is not
yet clear whether their influence on boredom levels is an
immediate one or to what degree it is mediated by other fac-
tors such as perceived effort or awareness of attentional diffi-
culties. Furthermore, careful manipulations of attention should
be applied in different circumstances that may give rise to
boredom. Whereas boredom during forced performance of
constrained tasks is particularly suitable for controlled labora-
tory studies, the role of attention in boredom that is experi-
enced during leisure time where one is free to engage in
activities of choice has not been probed.
Manipulating boredom
Our central proposal is that ineffectual deployment of atten-
tion is the final mediating mechanism in the boredom experi-
ence, and we note that a self-perpetuating, positive feedback
loop can exacerbate the problem. Indeed, negative mood has
been shown to impair sustained attention performance (Small-
wood et al., 2009). To the best of our knowledge, however, the
effect of boredom on attentional functions has never been
investigated. To investigate the effect of boredom on attention,
participants that have been subjected to controlled boredom
manipulations could subsequently perform attention tasks
that assess the different components of attention that we have
identified. More broadly, the study of boredom would be
significantly advanced by experimental designs that actually
manipulate state boredom to investigate the consequences of
boredom.
Measuring boredom
It is important to keep in mind the distinction between the
actual experience of boredom and the dispositional tendency
to become bored. “Boredom” is defined as a current and tran-
sient state, and yet the boredom literature relies heavily on
subjective self-report measures of trait-like propensity to
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Boredom and Attention 491
experience boredom instead of measurements of the phenom-
enon itself (Mercer-Lynn, Flora, Fahlman, & Eastwood, 2011).
Fahlman et al. (2011) recently developed a theoretically
driven and psychometrically sound measure of state boredom:
the Multidimensional State Boredom Scale (MSBS). In that
study, MSBS scores successfully distinguished between indi-
viduals who had been induced into a state of boredom and
those who had not, suggesting that the MSBS is a promising
tool for investigating the actual phenomenon of boredom.
In addition to subjective self-report measures, objective
measures of overt signs of boredom are needed. Such measures
could include behavioral observations such as monitoring for
changes in posture (e.g., slouching or leaning on elbow; see
Wall bo tt , 19 98 ), d oo dl in g (Ma nn & Ro bins on , 20 09 ), or fi dg -
eting and rhythmic limb movement (D’Mello & Graesser,
2009). Also, more targeted investigations of physiological
reactivity (such as heart rate or skin conductance levels) should
aim at distinguishing boredom from other negative emotional
states, such as depression or anxiety.
Boredom as a confounding factor in
cognitive research
Research into cognitive processes, and in particular attention,
relies heavily on artificially constrained and monotonous labo-
ratory tasks (Kingstone, Smilek, & Eastwood, 2008). Thus,
attention research is an ideal breeding ground for boredom to
arise. Therefore, boredom may emerge as an important, yet
largely neglected, confounding variable within cognitive neu-
roscience research. Indeed, a study by Cherrier, Small, Komo,
and La Rue (1997) highlighted methodological concerns about
boredom in participants. Specifically, they showed that state
boredom was correlated with asymmetries in brain activity;
consequently, the authors concluded that individuals undergo-
ing brain imaging procedures may become bored, which may
in turn influence the results of the study. Similarly, D’Angiulli
and LeBeau (2002) noted that experimental procedures might
unintentionally lead to feelings of boredom in participants and
thereby influence the data being collected. Such a possibility
may limit the generalizability of laboratory findings regarding
the way attention operates in more ecologically valid situa-
tions. Furthermore, because attention is critically involved in
virtually all cognitive processes, artificially constraining how
attention operates in boring experiments could also undermine
cognitive research that does not specifically target attention.
Utilizing measures of state boredom would allow researchers
to at least take into account variability related to boredom that
could influence the effects of the primary variables of interest.
Neural correlates of boredom and the
propensity to experience boredom
To the best of our knowledge, no study to date has specifically
investigated the neural correlates of boredom or the propensity
to experience boredom. This issue is potentially important
because, as described above, boredom likely affects partici-
pants in neuroimaging studies, and brain activity related to
such boredom may obscure effects that are under investiga-
tion. Further, understanding the neural correlates of boredom
will inform our understanding of boredom itself. Neuropsy-
chological research has revealed that levels and frequency of
boredom appear exacerbated after traumatic brain injury
(Kreutzer et al., 2001; Oddy et al., 1978). However, such stud-
ies are not reliable indicators of the neural systems involved in
boredom because they use small samples comprising a wide
range of affected brain areas; also, boredom in these samples
may be a function of reduced mobility, hospitalization, or
some other indirect consequence of brain damage.
A growing number of studies have examined brain activa-
tion in a so-called “default network” when a participant is not
currently occupied with a specific external task, but rather
engages in spontaneous mental activities such as daydreaming
or other associative thought processes (Bar, Aminoff, Mason,
& Fenske, 2007; Mason et al., 2007; see Buckner, Andrews-
Hanna, & Schacter, 2008, for a review). The default network
specifically comprises ventromedial prefrontal cortex, the
anterior cingulate cortex, precuneus, medial-parietal cortex,
medial temporal lobe, and lateral parietal cortical regions (Bar
et al., 2007). Thus, although the default network overlaps to
some degree with the executive attention network, the two
seem to be distinct. Indeed, when a participant is actively
engaged in a demanding task, activity in the executive net-
work typically increases while activity in the default network
decreases (Greicius, Krasnow, Reiss, & Menon, 2003; Mason
et al., 2007; Weissman, Roberts, Visscher, & Woldorff, 2006).
Although at first glance it might be tempting to conclude that
default network activation correlates with boredom, it should
be noted that brain regions associated with this network are
activated when a person is absorbed with internal, imaginative
thought (e.g., Spreng, Mar, & Kim, 2009). Activation of the
network in this context might even reflect a boredom coping
strategy: When the individual fails to engage attention with an
unrewarding external environment, they focus instead on more
rewarding internal thought processes. In any case, it appears
simplistic to equate default network activation with boredom.
Another approach is to examine neural activity in response
to attention-related tasks in individuals who differ in their pro-
pensity to experience boredom. For example, high-sensation
seekers strive for novelty but are easily bored with, and disen-
gage their attention from, repetitive events. A study by Jiang
et al. (2009) recorded event-related potentials while high- and
low-sensation seekers performed a simple task involving
repeated presentations of visual stimuli. Participants with high
boredom susceptibility scores (a subfactor of the sensation
seeking construct) showed delayed and less pronounced brain
potentials over lateral frontal cortex, suggesting that these
individuals habituated more quickly to repeated presentations
of stimuli. Habituation of cortical arousal in response to
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492 Eastwood et al.
repetitive stimulation has been suggested by other authors to
contribute to the likelihood that boredom is experienced
(Hamilton, 1981; O’Hanlon, 1981; Zuckerman, 1979).
It is a challenge for future research to disentangle neural
activity related to boredom from activity related to efforts to
mitigate boredom and to pinpoint individual differences in
neural responses regarding boredom-related traits. Gaining
insight into the neural structures and pathways involved in
boredom and the propensity to experience boredom will
inform our understanding of how boredom is linked to atten-
tion and other cognitive processes.
Concluding Remarks
Boredom affects almost everybody at some point in their lives.
Although most of us can relate to the boredom of sitting in a
waiting room or of other benign situations, it would be mis-
leading to regard boredom as harmless. Empirical evidence
clearly demonstrates that boredom and the propensity to expe-
rience boredom are linked to a wide range of psychosocial
problems, such as drug and alcohol abuse (e.g., LePera, 2011)
and problem gambling (Mercer & Eastwood, 2010), not to
mention potentially catastrophic performance errors. Bored
and boredom-prone airline pilots are more likely to make mis-
takes related to automation complacency (Bhana, 2010); more
worryingly, boredom has been singled out as a risk factor for
unreliable performance by nuclear military personnel (Dumas,
2001). The goal of this article is not only to advance our cur-
rent understanding of boredom, but also to appeal for more
targeted research on this important yet vastly underestimated
topic. We are confident that integrating the disparate fields of
cognitive neuroscience, social psychology, and clinical psy-
chology will prove fruitful in achieving a thorough under-
standing of the ubiquitous and intimately linked phenomena of
boredom and attention. Ultimately, such efforts will aid in the
discovery of new strategies to ease the problems of boredom
sufferers and will address the potentially dangerous cognitive
errors associated with boredom and other disorders of atten-
tion and emotion.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The authors declared that they had no conflicts of interest with
respect to their authorship or the publication of this article.
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... These results thus deserve further research; eye movements (i.e., fixations, saccades, fixational eye movements, blinks, and ocular vergence) and pupillary responses are measures of attention, insofar as they disclose where attention is deployed (fixations; Duc et al., 2008), sustained attention (blinks; Smilek et al., 2010), cognitive load (pupil dilation; Wel & Steenbergen, 2018), and arousal (pupil dilation ;Unsworth & McMillan, 2013), to mention just a few of these indications. Given that boredom is linked to attention and effort (e.g., Eastwood et al., 2012) eye-tracking might be a promising tool in boredom research. ...
... Recent studies have also investigated the neural signature of boredom with neuroimaging, which has mainly revealed higher activation in the default mode network (including the prefrontal regions, cingulate cortex, and hippocampal areas, among others) during the experience of boredom (Danckert and Merrifield, 2018). It remains an open question whether the implication of the default mode network is directly linked to boredom, or whether it is mediated by the failure to engage attention, which is a core dimension of the experience of boredom (Eastwood et al., 2012). Indeed, a large amount of research has shown the implications of the default mode network in disengaged states (e.g., mind wandering; Mason et al., 2007). ...
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The goal of this chapter is to review the methodologies used to assess boredom. The most widely used methods are self-report measures in the context of experimental research and cross-sectional surveys. We expand upon previous reviews of dispositional and situational self-report measures of boredom by presenting the established as well as recently developed psychometric scales, which are used to assess trait and state boredom in general and in domain-specific contexts, such as education, work, or sports. Next to retrospective state scales, probe-caught methods are used in experimental boredom research. In these experiments, participants are tasked to report their levels of boredom when a probe interrupts their current task. The subjective nature of self-reported boredom has motivated researchers to combine these measures with behavioral, physiological, and neurological markers. In the last part of this chapter, we will review this work, which reports promising results and encourages further research to identify the measures that are sensitive to boredom. In this last part of the chapter, we will also explore objective methodologies for studying boredom that are mainly based on human-computer interaction research.
... Behaviorally, the experience of boredom is thought to drive the pursuit of new goals when the previous goal is no longer beneficial (Bench & Lench, 2013) through avoidance of the task (Nett et al., 2011) and exploration of alternatives (Wolff & Martarelli, 2020). At the cognitive level, boredom is associated with reduced task-related attention and greater distractibility, which induce task-irrelevant thinking focused on alternative content (Eastwood et al., 2012). ...
... Therefore, we seek here to take advantage of previous approaches by modifying the content of the task in light of the sequence of emotional states leading to boredom. For example, students experiencing frustration due to low control -or boredom, who thus engage fewer resources to complete the task (Eastwood et al., 2012;Pekrun, 2011) -might need more detailed information to ease the cognitive cost needed to fill the gaps in comprehension (VanLehn, 2011). To this end, we manipulate two versions of Betty's Brain (Segedy, 2014). ...
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Providing students with efficient instruction tailored to their individual characteristics in the cognitive and affective domains is an important goal in research on computer-based learning. This is especially important when seeking to enhance students’ learning experience, such as by counteracting boredom, a detrimental emotion for learning. However, studies comparing instructional strategies triggered by either cognitive or emotional characteristics are surprisingly scarce. In addition, little research has examined the impact of these types of instructional strategies on performance and boredom trajectories within a lesson. In the present study, we compared the effectiveness of an intelligent tutoring system that adapted variable levels of hint details to a combination of students’ dynamic, self-reported emotions and task performance (i.e., the experimental condition) to a traditional hint delivery approach consisting of a progressive, incremental supply of details following students’ failures (i.e., the control condition). Linear mixed models of time-related changes in task performance and the intensity of boredom over two one-hour sessions showed that students (N = 104) in the two conditions exhibited equivalent progression in task performance and similar trajectories in boredom intensity. However, a consideration of students’ achievement levels in the analyses (i.e., their final performance on the task) revealed that higher achievers in the experimental condition showed a reduction in boredom during the first session, suggesting possible benefits of using emotional information to increase the contingency of the hint delivery strategy and improve students’ learning experience.
... Boredom is an unpleasant experience that results in decreased attention both in terms of thoughts and feelings and interactions with the environment that cause dissatisfaction (Eastwood et al., 2014). During the COVID-19 pandemic, athletes complained of feeling bored. ...
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The COVID-19 Pandemic has led to the emergence of restrictive polices that have an impact not only on the physical aspect but also on the psychological impact of athletes. This study aims to examine the mental health conditions of Central Java athletes. The research method used is descriptive qualitative which is conducted on 20 athletes in Central Java. The sampling technique in this research is purposive sampling technique. This research is conducted in five stages, namely the preparation of definitions, observation-interview guidelines, data collection, data analysis, and data interpretation. Methods of data collection using observation and interview techniques. The collected data is then analyzed through data verification, coding, tabulation, and presentation. The results of this study indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic has an impact on aspects of activity related to sport activities, aspects of mental condition, and aspects of financial well being of athletes. In the aspect of mental state, the athletes showed some negative emotion such as boredom, disapppoitment, and confusion. The emergence of these negative emotions resulted in decreased concentration and decreased motivation of the athletes in training. Mental problem that do not get psychological treatment are feared to be the cause of the emergence of disorders more severe mental health in athletes. The results of this study can be used as recommendations for coaches and the government in developing programs to improve athlete achievement through physical and mental strengthening. Suggestions for further research are the need to develop an instrument for measuring athletes' mental health and analyzing mental health factors in athletes during a pandemic.
... It is among the three most frequently observed psychological problems, along with fear and sleep disturbance. Boredom has several consequences affecting the well-being of children, such as academic failure, in addition to depression and anxiety, loneliness, anger, aggression, overeating, and binge eating (Eastwood et al., 2012). ...
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The lengthy time of school closure was one defining factor in understanding child well-being during the pandemic in a context where school as a relational space holds great importance for children, particularly those from a low socioeconomic background. Considering this significant aspect of lengthy school closure during the pandemic in Turkey, this article explores children’s experiences concerning their day-to-day access to education, digital inequalities, housing conditions, and changing context of relations with peers and teachers. The article also explores the meaning that children attribute to school as a relational space where they shape their intergenerational and generational relations. The absence of the school in children’s lives for almost 2 years has been a major source of longing for such significant childhood space. Following our earlier work on the children’s negotiation of well-being within the boundaries of the relational spaces of home and school, this article looks into how children negotiate their well-being in a pandemic environment where school as a relational space has changed its meaning and where children’s caretakers’ (teachers, parents, and other) vulnerabilities have also increased. The analysis draws on the qualitative fieldwork carried out with 50 children during the summer of 2020 in Turkey. We aim to reflect on the experiences from children’s perspectives within the boundaries of the constraints that the pandemic has generated. This article also discusses how COVID-19 has widened the gap and increased vulnerabilities among the already disadvantaged groups and gender in terms of available resources and their allocation as it is reflected in time use that portrays the meaning that children attribute to their own experience during the pandemic.
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Boredom is the phenomenon most adolescent students have been struggling with, especially during the pandemic; they were regularly mandated to stay in a new normal way. This research aimed to study the life experience of boredom towards online activities leading to dysfunctional behaviours of teens, to survey the preference for online learning methods of Thai adolescent students, and to create a virtual reality classroom for English writing classes. The first study, transcendental phenomenology, included ten teens between 13 and 18 years old selected by purposive sampling. In study, 285 Thai teens were recruited to answer the questionnaire, and the last phase included five experts to discuss the strategies for creating a VR classroom. The research findings indicated that most adolescent students experiencing boredom with online activities defined “boredom” in two ways: blackout and refuelling. The experiences of boredom during COVID-19 led to dysfunctional behaviours such as cheating, aggression, and procrastination. The essence appeared to be two conterminous elements: boredom towards “contents” and “forms”. The survey research findings indicated that almost 50% of the respondents preferred online learning in the form of virtual reality. The researcher, hence, created a four-station-learning VR classroom for English writing class, considering four elements: contents and learning activities, environmental design, multimedia invention, and online platform. All discoveries can be applied to many fields, such as behavioural science, psychology, education, and science and technology, to ignite the idea and enhance online learning to become more motivating and reduce adolescent students’ boredom.
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Background: Diagnostic accuracy studies are important to identify the best set of defining characteristics for a given nursing diagnosis. The reliability of nursing inferences can be increased by using clinical indicators with high prediction capacity helping nurses to be more accurate in their clinical practice. Objective: To clinically validate the nursing diagnosis Decreased diversional activity engagement in adult patients with diabetes. Method: A diagnostic accuracy study with a cross-sectional design was carried out patients with type 2 diabetes. A latent class model with random effects was used to measure the sensitivity and specificity. Results: The diagnosis of Decreased diversional activity engagement was present in 62.2% of the patients. The defining characteristics with high sensitivity (good indicators for confirmation) were discontent with situation, physical deconditioning, and altertion in mood. Boredom, flat affect, discontent with situation, and frequent naps were the defining characteristics with the highest specificity values. These factors are considered good integrating components of the diagnosis under investigation in patients with diabetes. Conclusion: The nursing diagnosis decreased diversional activity engagement is frequent in patients with diabetes, and discontent with situation can be considered a good predictor of its occurrence due to its high values of specificity and sensitivity. Impact: The use of accurate clinical indicators in the diagnostic reasoning of nurses contributes to the achievement of outcomes centered on the patient's human responses.
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Findings from correlational research suggest that people more likely to take risk during COVID‐19. However, little is known about the causal role of the coronavirus threat in the emergence of risk taking behaviors. Here, we conducted three diverse studies involving questionnaire‐based responses and actual measures of risk‐taking behavior across nonmoral and immoral domains. In support of our theoretical perspective, Experiment 1 revealed that participants who were exposed to the COVID‐19 threat were more prone to take risks than those in the control condition. Experiment 2 aimed to replicate the findings of Experiment 1 using a behavioral measure to capture participants' interest in risk taking. The results showed that the salience of COVID‐19 can increase individuals' willingness to take risks in a nonmoral domain, namely, bungee jumping. Experiment 3 provided a behavioral confirmation of the relationship uncovered in an immoral domain (i.e., bribery). Across three experiments, we found that boredom state mediated the effect of the pandemic influence on risk taking. Together, our research rounds out the picture of contributors to risk taking and underscores the cumulative destructive effect of COVID‐19. We discuss implications for research on COVID‐19 and risk taking, as well as practical significance for society at large.
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In order to study the influence of attention on time perception, a strategy is proposed that is a combination of two methods. One method is the sharing of attention between temporal and nontemporal information. The other method is that used to trace a Performance Operating Characteristics (POC) curve; the POC curve serves to investigate the relative cost of concurrent tasks when the subject is asked to allocate different amounts of attention to each of two tasks. The tasks are (1) duration discrimination between two confusable time intervals and (2) loudness discrimination between two confusable auditory intensities. Five different conditions of allocation are manipulated, and two durations are investigated: 500 and 1500 ms. The results suggest: (1) that both the temporal and the nontemporal performances suffer from attention sharing, which decreases the amount of attention to a given task and thus increases the number of discrimination errors; and (2) that when less attention is allocated to the passage of time, the perceived duration seems shorter at 500 ms but not at 1500 ms.
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The validity of a newly developed Boredom Proneness Scale (Farmer & Sundberg, 1986) was studied by relating alienation, as measured by Gould's Manifest Alienation Measure, internal‐external control, as measured by Rotter's I‐E scale, assertiveness, as measured by the College Self‐Expression Scale, and sleep patterns to susceptibility to boredom. The significant positive relationship between boredom and alienation and the significant negative relationship between boredom and assertiveness supported the scale's validity. Only for females was there a significant relationship between amount of sleep and boredom. Some indication of greater boredom in males as compared to females also was found.
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The fate of ”consciousness” as a scientific concept is one of the most ironic paradoxes in the history of psychology. Once the central issue, the very essence of what psychology was all about, it is nowadays a peripheral concern, an antiquated idea about as useful as ether and phlogiston are to physicists. According to Murphy and Kovach (1972, p. 51), consciousness ”has been a storm center in psychology for a century. Some regard it as an unfortunate and superfluous assumption. . . . Others regard consciousness as only one of many expressions of psychological reality; indeed many psychologists think that the recognition of a psychological realm far greater than the conscious realm is the great emancipating principle of all modern psychology.”
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The research project determined whether boredom proneness and self-assessed boredom affect automation complacency in modern airline pilots. Modern transport category aircraft are increasing in automation sophistication. This paradigm shift is seeing pilots relegated to automation supervisory or monitoring roles instead of active participants in the flight. An unintended consequence is the potential for increased boredom. The study examines whether pilots who are more prone to boredom make a greater amount of automation complacency related mistakes. A sample of active professional airline pilots at a major airline in the United States completed an on-line survey (N=273). The survey incorporated four parts. The first segment collected general demographic data. The second portion administered the BPS, or Boredom Proneness Test (Farmer & Sundberg, 1986). The third segment administered the Pilot Automation Complacency Practices Scale, created by the author. Finally, the last portion queried the subject's self-assessed boredom level, and automation philosophy. The survey included numerous free comment sections for pilots to add information not specifically queried. Pearson Correlation Coefficients confirmed that boredom proneness does affect automation complacency in the sample. The BPS exhibited good validity with the self-assessment of boredom (r=.499, p=0.01). Boredom and boredom proneness also adversely affect attention span in airline pilots. The research is applicable to highly automated environments conducive to boredom where monitoring and supervision is required.